Kings of the Stone Age

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Speck/Gordon
Speck/Gordon
As two guys who direct comic, offbeat television commercials, people often get the wrong idea about Speck/Gordon. "Because we're partners, people always ask us if we were copywriters together," Will Speck says. In fact, he and directing partner Josh Gordon, both 36, took what you might call the West Coast route into advertising. After meeting at NYU, they moved to L.A. and got jobs in showbiz. Gordon worked as a writer on Mad About You for one season, while Speck became an exec at Fox 2000—"reluctantly," he says, "hating every minute of it."

"We would stay up all night working on scripts and stuff, and we finally wrote a short film and decided to leave our jobs and go produce it," says Gordon. The result—1998's Culture, starring future Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ally McBeal wiseacre Greg Germann—earned an Oscar nomination for best live-action short and attracted the attention of @radical.media's Jon Kamen, whom the team credits with getting them into spots. Two production companies later—after a stint at RSA, they were repped by Diane McArter via Omaha and remained with her when she launched her new company, Furlined, in 2005—things have come full circle. The duo just made their feature debut with the Will Ferrell figure-skating comedy Blades of Glory, whose opening weekend kicked big ice with $33 million, and are currently casting an ABC series inspired by the put upon cavemen characters they created with The Martin Agency for Geico.

"It felt logical to us," says Speck when asked if he ever imagined that the team's shot at a series would be based on an ad campaign. "As we started to do the second round of spots, we realized that what we were doing, inadvertently, was developing these characters and telling a longer story." The commercials are, of course, ridiculously funny, thanks in large part to the decision to make the cavemen "metrosexuals who wear Armani blazers and carry Blackberries," as Speck describes them, rather than the usual loin-clothed grunters. "We thought it would make a bigger contrast with the world thinking that they were simple and dumb if, in fact, we saw them as incredibly evolved." The spots end up being sendups of yuppie indignation and self-absorption, as much as anything, which has lent them some serious pop-culture traction. "There was an immediate connection," says Martin Agency copywriter Joe Lawson, whom Speck calls the team's "third partner." "Their take on the caveman spots was exactly what I was hoping someone would say, as far as the dryness and the straightness of it. They're very subtle directors, and they believe in nuance." That subtlety—and an obsessive attention to detail—is also evident in "Tiny House," another Geico spot from 2004, which succeeded in spoofing reality shows with perfect verisimilitude where many off-pitch commercials have failed. "We're very detail oriented," Gordon admits. "We feel like everything ultimately affects the audience's takeaway."

And they've brought this obsessive level of attention not just to comedy but to more stylized spots as well, like their streetwise campaign for Levi's and BBH/London, and a Twilight Zone-ish series of commercials for Samsung and Berlin Cameron. "In commercials, every month you're in a different world and you're servicing a different story, so I think we just naturally tried to diversify," Gordon says. "You're able to bounce around and try on a lot of different tones." As for how they get there, Speck tends to handle the performances while Gordon focuses on the camera work. "We definitely complement each other," Speck says. "We have an interesting partnership because we both have the same taste, especially with comedy. We both really respond—and always have—to the same films, the same books and the same sort of references, but we each have different angles into that work. Sometimes I see it more from a performance standpoint. Josh understands the performance standpoint but also understands how to translate it visually. We arrive at things in different ways, but we always end up at the same place."

And where they find themselves now—launching a features career and a TV series—seems like a good place to be at the moment, judging from the recent crossover success of commercials directors like Bennett Miller and Dayton/Faris. "The generation before us was bringing a visual style that films hadn't seen before, and the Finchers and the Bays and the people like that were able to come in," Gordon says. "Now a lot of commercials directors are actually coming in with more nuanced, character-based films, and it's nice that they're able to enter at that level as well."
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